Enabling Environments: Tried and Tested - Built to last

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Construction block sets are among the essential equipment that any nursery will have, but that doesn't mean they're all alike. Mary Evans hears how early years settings rate a variety of the latest products.


Using construction toys helps children make discoveries about how things fit together. They learn to build on their own ideas and to solve problems. Construction toys are also good for developing good hand-eye co-ordination. For young babies it can be fun just lifting up blocks and moving them around. As children grow older they learn that more controlled movement is needed.

- All prices exclusive of VAT and post/packaging


3 - 5
CONTACT: 0800 318686 or www.tts-group.co.uk
COST: £28.99

A bucket full of constructive fun includes 150 gears, connectors, and interlocking bases.

Tested by Mayfield House Kindergarten, Ilfracombe, Devon

'We already have some gears and the children have enjoyed adding the sets together to make larger sets. We introduced the gears to the children as the set was delivered, letting them open the box. They liked the bucket it came in and were eager to open it to see if it was the same as the gears we already have. They have used the gears with the ones we already have as they fit together, but wanted to put them back in the bucket at tidy-up time. The set is sturdy and will last some time. It can be used both in a large group or individually. It can be used as floor or table work inside and outside in the garden. It can be used to sort, match, count, stack, as well as for colour recognition - all of which encourages language.

'At the moment we do not have any children with special needs, but I think the gears would be useful here, as they are colourful, tactile and when put together are quite noisy. In a large container, they could be used as a feely resource.

'The base plates are rather hard for the children to fit together and take apart and needed adult help. More handles would be useful, as only one is supplied, but more than one construction can be made at any one time. The children said, "I like them because I like making things" and" I like the noise they make" and "I like gears because they all turn around." The gears are very noisy when they are turned around if they are in one large construction - perhaps that is why there is only one handle enclosed!'

Star Rating: 4 out of 5 - Very Good

COST: £27.99
CONTACT: www.reflectionsonlearning.co.uk or 01732 773399

The foam building blocks in this 68-piece set are non-toxic, soft to the touch and washable. They can be used by children on any surface without concern - even mirrors.

Tested by Heidi Evans, childminder, Purley-on-Thames

'The variety of shapes of the blocks was excellent. When I took them to a childminder drop-in, one of the children, aged 53 months, built an elaborate train station with them with some wonderful repeating patterns. I was so impressed that I took a photograph of it, as I hadn't seen him build anything like it before. However, there are plenty of other excellent wooden or plastic alternatives on the market already that I think would last a lot longer, and I did not like the fact that these could be bitten by younger children.'

Star Rating: 3 out of 5 - Good

PRICE: £46.60
CONTACT: 0115 989 9765 or sales@wescouk.co.uk

A set comprising 50 giant sturdy cardboard blocks, strong enough to hold an adult's weight, including bricks, cubes and half-cubes

Tested by Kids Korner Day Nursery, Halesowen

'The staff and I assembled some of the bricks in front of the children so that they could see the start and end products. I showed the children the different sizes and colours and provided some suggestions as to what they could do with them. Once they were shown, the bricks were left out for the children to explore. Some made bridges over water and used the bricks to stand on. Others built castles standing in the centre as the bricks were built around them.

'A child in our nursery with speech and language barriers and attachment disorder found these useful as he sat with a small group and they built together, developing the child's concentration levels and helping him form friendships and work together.

'The giant bricks have been a real hit in our nursery. They are regularly asked for by the children to play with and can be used both inside and out in the garden.'

Star Rating: 5 out of 5 - Excellent

PRICE: £29
CONTACT: 0161 367 2000 www.findel-education.co.uk

A set of 52 colourful wooden blocks that can be used to build animal models or anything else the children's imaginations fancy.

Tested by the Daisychain Nursery, Kirkcaldy, Fife

'This set was mainly used with our tweenies (age one to two), but all our children (nought to five) had a turn and all seemed to enjoy them. With the younger children we introduced the blocks to a small group at a time. Younger children enjoy small group times and the staff are able to give more attention at these times. For the older children we put the box out in our construction area and the children used it in their own time. We felt that perhaps there weren't enough blocks for the children to create an animal of their own, but in time the children will learn that sharing and taking turns is important with these blocks. This makes them a valuable piece of equipment.

'At only £29, I think these blocks are great value for money. Construction is something that we use on a daily basis and this set has proved sturdy, educational and most of all, fun for our babies and children to use.

'We do not have any children with special needs at the moment, but I am sure this would be useful as they are chunky pieces, making it easier to grip, hold and control.

'All of our children enjoyed using the creative blocks and the staff felt they gained a lot of education and fun out of them. Wooden blocks are something we always have in nursery and should we ever need to purchase more, we would definitely consider these blocks.'

Star Rating: 4 out of 5 - Very Good

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PRICE: £22
0161 367 2000 www.findel-education.co.uk

This set contains 77 bright wooden pieces that connect by threading along wooden dowels to form a beautiful flower garden full of busy bees.

Tested by World's End Under Five Centre, London

'We felt that it was a very attractive toy, but it is made up of lots of small pieces that tended to get lost. It is not particularly sturdy and was limited in its appeal - no child used it for longer than a few minutes.

'The toy encourages good fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination. It promotes problem solving through sequencing, which can lead to creativity. The many different colours, shapes, flowers and animals promote conversations and develop language skills. This toy could be well used as part of a topic about nature and would support the children's gaining a good knowledge and understanding of their world. It is well made, but the long dowels did concern staff as the children could put them in their mouths, eyes or noses. We felt that the toy could be improved by providing a larger platform to build on, and it could be extended with the provision of extra pieces to add trees and birds.'

Star Rating: 2 out of 5 - Satisfactory



For Julie Palin, co-ordinator at the World's End Under Five Centre, London

'The best blocks we have ever had are a set of big blocks from Community Playthings. They are beautiful, hand-crafted wooden blocks and are strong and sturdy with no sharp corners and no splinters. We have left them outside in all weathers and they have lasted over ten years. You can clean them very easily with a little cream cleaner. They are not cheap, but everybody does small blocks and these big blocks are unique.'

- For more information visit communityplaythings.co.uk


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